Fungi for the Win

09/01/2022
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    Mushrooms burst from bags filled with coffee grounds and fungi spores. (Martin Bertrand/Hans Lucas via Reuters)
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    Mycelium is the thready, root-like part of maturing mushrooms. (Prade Joniensis/CC)
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    MycoComposite packing material is made from mycelium. (Delos)
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    PermaFungi is making fungus-based insulation tiles. (Handout)
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A Belgian company is fighting garbage with garbage. It seeks to transform coffee grounds into food products and construction materials—and to reduce plastic waste too.

In the cellar of a former industrial plant, clusters of mushrooms emerge from slashes in long sacks. The hanging bags contain a mixture of straw and coffee grounds, rich soil for a burgeoning business.

PermaFungi collects five tons of used grounds each month via deliveries from cafés across Belgium. Workers mix grounds in a drum, add fungi spores, and then transfer the potion to sacks. Fifteen days later, the bags burst with mushrooms, ripe for selling in organic shops.

PermaFungi has been growing mushrooms for years. Future plans include expanding production of mycelium—the thready, root-like part of mushrooms—using a different fungus. The resulting product can be used as a plastic alternative.

CEO Julien Jacquet waxes practical about PermaFungi’s goal to produce 12 tons of the new substance monthly by 2025. “Each day we throw away a lot of coffee,” he says. He’s aware that coffee production “needs a lot of energy—from the cultivation to the transportation.” He calls it “a pity not to use it more than a few minutes” during the brew cycle.

COO Stijn Roovers agrees. Belgians “[drink] thousands of tons a year.” He says the grounds “are mainly being thrown away, so it’s a huge potential.”

With global governments increasingly seeking to cut pollution and waste, PermaFungi believes it offers a solution. The company recently filled its first commercial order for fungus-based insulation tiles.

Home goods giant IKEA has begun using another mycelium-based product, MycoComposite, for packaging and shipping products around the globe. The company wants to stop using polystyrene, the white substance commonly called Styrofoam. Unlike polystyrene, which can last for decades or more, MycoComposite will biodegrade in a landfill in just weeks.

Ecovative Design experiments with different mushroom species in MycoComposite, enhancing each species’ distinct properties to perform different functions like sound-dampening, insulation, plant-growing, and more. The product grows start to finish in less than a week.

The Ecovative website credits “Mother Nature” with having “already invented technologies that humans can use to make the products we need,” adding, “We just need to know where to find them.”

Of course, that credit rightly belongs to God. He set His love on us, and all creation calls us to knowledge of His glory and excellence. “For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on Earth.” (Colossians 1:16) Once again, God’s creation proves more complex and brilliant than humans know.

Why? Humans continually find answers to complex problems in God’s created world. Such discoveries are further proof of His glory and excellence.